United States v. CB & I Constructors, Inc.

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Tort Law
  • Date Filed: 06-29-2012
  • Case #: 10-55371
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Fletcher for the Court; Circuit Judges Goodwin and Rawlinson
  • Full Text Opinion

Intangible environmental damages caused by a negligently set wildfire are included in property damage under California law.

A jury found that CB & I Constructors negligently caused the Copper Ridge wildfire in California in 2002. In addition to $7.6 million in actual costs to contain the fire, the jury awarded the government an additional $28.8 million in intangible environmental damages. At trial, experts testified to a variety of environmental impacts, including: harm to scenic views, soil stability, recreational use, plant life, wildlife habitat, and damage to an historical mining camp. CB & I appealed arguing, inter alia, “that intangible noneconomic damages are not compensable in tort suits alleging harm to property.” The Court found that the California statute’s “broad language” and “history of liberal construction” allowed for wide latitude in determining damages and that “the intangible environmental damages sought by the government are a type of property damage caused by the fire.” The Court agreed with the district court’s finding that the government did not impermissibly seek damages for emotional distress, and that under California law, “the government may recover environmental damages because anything less would not compensate the public for all of the harm caused by the fire.”

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